“It Takes a Village”
There is a proverb that says, “It takes a village,” meaning that the development of a child requires all hands on deck. Participation from the community is essential for growth. In Acts 2 we see an example of this.
The Holy Spirit has filled the upper room, pilgrims to Jerusalem are able to understand the disciples in their own languages, and Peter preaches a mighty sermon. The entire community is engaged. Peter’s sermon is so captivating and convicting that people repent and get baptized. Luke records the sense of awe that everyone feels because of what is taking place (Acts 2:43).
Deceit and dishonesty threaten the foundation of fellowship.
The believers have come together, devoting themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (verse 42, NIV). It is the preaching of the gospel and the presence of the Spirit that unite everyone in fellowship. The word that is used for fellowship in the original language is layered with so much meaning. Fellowship is not just limited to contact or intimacy; fellowship implies equality. Everyone brings what they have, and they share it among themselves. Everyone has access to the same thing at the same time, and they take only what they need. This idea of fellowship is so radical because it goes against the selfish proclivities of the sinful heart (Jer. 17:9). Fellowship is hard work, and it is a work that the Spirit alone can do.
The Village Tried (Acts 5)
Later in Luke’s account of the early church, he shares the tragedy of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Right before narrating that incident, Luke tells us of Barnabas, who “owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37, NASB). The actions of Barnabas are then contrasted to the actions of Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of their property (just like Barnabas did), and they laid the proceeds of the sale at the apostles’ feet (as did Barnabas). But Ananias is castigated for holding back a portion of the sale. Peter reprimands him and tells Ananias that he has not lied to man, but he has lied to the Holy Spirit, and upon hearing these words Ananias drops down dead. Three hours later, Peter confronts Sapphira, asks her whether the land was sold for “ ‘such and such a price’ ” (NASB), and she affirms it. Peter then chastises her for testing the Spirit and informs her that the same men that buried her husband are there to bury her as well (Acts 5:7–10).
While this incident seems harsh, it emphasizes the urgency of integrity within the fellowship of believers. The fundamental difference between the account of Barnabas and that of Ananias and Sapphira is that the latter two lied to the Spirit and reneged on a promise. It can be inferred from the text that Ananias and Sapphira had agreed to give the entire portion of the sale of land to the church; instead they only gave a portion of the sale and passed it off as if it were the full cost received. They lied to the Holy Spirit, the Person (and yes the Holy Spirit is a person) who brought unity and equality to the fledgling church.
Peter told them the land was theirs to do with it whatever they wished; they were not forced to commit the entire proceeds to the church, but instead they chose to pass off a portion of the sale as the entirety. Deceit and dishonesty threaten the foundation of fellowship. It was Satan’s deceit and dishonesty in heaven that resulted in a third of the angels rebelling against God. Integrity is vital to the health, growth, and sustainability of the church. While we may be able to present facades of our integrity, we cannot hide from the One who reads our hearts (Jer. 17:10).
The Village Tested
Ananias and Sapphira’s dishonesty has more than serious internal implications for this new group of believers; it also has external ramifications. How should Luke, as the author, relate the shortcomings of the believers of God to those on the outside? Luke is writing a history book, and he does have the option of excluding this story from the record. It is a painful story and a damaging narrative. It could sow discord among the believers, or it could alienate those not part of this Christian movement.
With options before him, Luke decided to remain true to the events of history.
He shows us what can happen when people come together by the leading of the Spirit, yet he also shows us what happens when people forgo the Spirit in pursuit of their own interests. Luke adequately portrays the authenticity of the church. Yes, the church is established by God, but it will have its problems because, at the end of the day, human beings, tainted by sin, make up the church.
The Tried and True Village
True fellowship brings equality. Equality can be sustained only by integrity. The same Spirit that brings us together in fellowship must take hold of our lives and hold us accountable. We must submit everything, including our will and our integrity, to the Spirit, so as not to hinder the work of God. Integrity and authenticity matter both to those within and those outside of the church. Some may believe the church is not transparent enough. While the church is not obligated to report every single misstep, the church has an awesome opportunity to witness to the world of how God can still use and redeem people and institutions that mess up. Authentically and adequately portraying the actions and history of the church speaks more positively to a God who is able use our messes than when we try to redeem our own history.
1. What could authentic fellowship look like in the twenty-first century?
2. Why is integrity so important to the fellowship of believers?
3. What are some ways the church could authentically represent itself to the world?